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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Verses 1-7


In dealing with the relation of the Mosaic Law to the antecedent covenant and with its subsequent fulfilment in Christ, the Apostle necessarily limited his view of the seed of Abraham, who were covenanted heirs of salvation between Moses and the Advent, to Israel. He likened these accordingly to children growing up in their father’s house under domestic control. But as most of those to whom he wrote had been converts from heathenism, he now extends his view of the world before Christ so as to embrace Gentiles also within its scope. Amidst the heathen were other children of God, a faithful seed, potential heirs of salvation, who passed through a like stage of spiritual childhood under different conditions. They were like orphan children committed by the watchful care of an unseen and unknown father to the custody of others. For they were subject to human systems of religion, government and law, neither knowing their Heavenly Father nor comprehending His love for them. The conception of a dead father providing by his will for the due education of his orphan children serves admirably to illustrate the mutual relations between God and the Gentile world, and to set forth the combination of steadfast love on one side with utter ignorance on the other. The illustration is obviously borrowed from testamentary systems prevailing among Greeks and Romans (not among Hebrews) which enabled a father to appoint guardians for his orphan children during their minority. These testamentary powers differed considerably in different parts of the Roman world according to the municipal laws of various cities. Whereas Roman citizens became wards of the state at fourteen, so that the powers of testamentary guardians were strictly limited, the discretion of the father was allowed a wider range in Greek cities. At Athens, for instance, the guardians of Demosthenes retained control over his property till he became a full citizen after eighteen; and in Asiatic Greece the custody of property was sometimes prolonged to twenty-five, though the personal authority ceased at fourteen. The dependent position of an orphan is described in popular language without legal precision; νήπιος is not a legal term, but an appropriate description for a child of tender years, naturally subject to the control of guardians ( ἐπιτρόπους ) and subordinate agents whom they might employ for household management or care of property ( οἰκονόμους ). It can hardly be right to identify the latter with the Roman curatores , for the special function of these officers was custody of property and not personal.

Verse 3

Galatians 4:3 . νήπιοι : children, i.e. , spiritually children. The clause points to the stage of undeveloped spiritual life through which converts from heathenism had passed, the spiritual childhood which had been the lot of earlier generations before the time was ripe for the Advent. στοιχεῖα . The association of this word with νήπιοι fixes on it the conception of a rudimentary training to which the world was subjected during its spiritual infancy by way of preparation for the Gospel of Christ and the dispensation of the Spirit. Before men could enter into the spirit of His teaching, they had to learn the elementary principles of religion and morality. Compulsory obedience to definite rules of justice and order was a necessary preparation for the freedom of the Spirit. This preliminary education was given to the Hebrews in the Ten Commandments and the Law, it was imparted to a wider world in Greek civilisation and philosophy, in Roman law and government, and in other forms of national and social life. These rudiments are disparaged in Galatians 4:9 as weak and beggarly in comparison with the teaching of the Spirit, for Christian men ought to have outgrown their spiritual childhood. So, again, in Colossians 2:8 ; Colossians 2:20 , they are condemned wherever their traditional hold on human society produces an antagonism to the higher teaching of Christ. But before the Advent they formed a valuable discipline for the education of the world.

Verse 4

Galatians 4:4 . When God saw that the world was ripe for the Advent, He sent forth His Son. Until generations of mankind had learnt through years of social training to control some of the animal instincts of their lower nature, to rebel against its brutal passions, and cherish a desire to live in obedience to their higher nature, until they had developed some sense of sin and some craving after a holiness beyond their reach, they were not ready to welcome a Redeemer. γενόμενον … νόμον . The incarnate Son of God took upon Him our nature and our duties. He was (1) born of woman, (2) made subject to Law. His subjection to Law is so expressly associated with the subjection of the world in general to Law that the term cannot be limited (as our versions limit it) to the Law of Moses. Christ was in fact subjected also to Roman Law, and died by its sentence.

Verse 5

Galatians 4:5 . ἵνα … ἵνα . These two final clauses couple together two gracious purposes of God in the scheme of redemption, (1) the obliteration of a guilty past, (2) divine adoption with the blessings which sonship entails. The description under Law includes Gentiles as well as Jews: for though they had not the Law , they were not without Law to God ( cf. Romans 2:14 …): they have indeed been expressly specified in Galatians 3:14 as included in the redemption from the curse of the Law. ἀπολάβωμεν . This verb denotes receiving back , as ἀποδιδόναι does giving back ( cf. Luke 19:8 ): accordingly it describes the adoption in Christ as a restoration of the original birthright, withheld throughout many generations for the sake of necessary discipline.

Verse 6

Galatians 4:6 . Sonship involves relations of mutual confidence and love between the Father who bestows His choicest gifts, and the Son who responds with His whole heart.

Verse 7

Galatians 4:7 . διὰ Θεοῦ . This language is unusual, and many variations are found in MSS. and versions, amidst them the Received Text Θεοῦ διὰ Χριστοῦ , but there can be little question on MS. evidence that the above is the genuine text. As for the true force of the words, the Epistle has now traced the scheme of redemption and design of bestowing a heavenly inheritance in Christ as far back as the patriarchs, and has shown that from the time of Abraham downwards God was disciplining Israel with a view to their becoming sons of God, and again that He was really ordering the lives of Gentiles likewise, though they knew Him not, with the same intent. With good reason therefore it is here said “through God through His original design and providential care thou hast now become son and heir”.

Verses 8-10

Galatians 4:8-10 . BUT THOUGH IN TIME PAST WHEN YOU KNEW NOT GOD YOU WERE SLAVES TO FALSE GODS, HOW CAN YOU, NOW THAT YOU HAVE LEARNT TO KNOW HIM, OR RATHER HAVE BEEN RECOGNISED BY HIM, TURN BACK TO THE LESSONS OF CHILDHOOD AND CRAVE A BONDAGE TO TIMES AND SEASONS? The guilt of past idolatry is palliated on the score of ignorance, in the same spirit as in Acts 17:30 , in order to press home the responsibility of those who have learnt to know God ( γνόντες Θεόν ) in Christ. There was some excuse for their former bondage to imaginary gods who had no real existence: but how can they now turn back in heart to the weak and beggarly lessons of their spiritual childhood after they have received the spirit of sonship? Instead of ruling their own lives by reason and conscience under the guidance of the Spirit like men in Christ, they are bent on subjecting themselves like children to elementary rules of formal service.

Verse 9

Galatians 4:9 . μᾶλλον δὲ . This correction is added, lest any should pride themselves on their knowledge of God, to warn them that it is not due to their own act, but to God who recognised them as His sons and repealed Himself to them. ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ . Hitherto the Apostle has spoken with respect of the education given to the world before Christ (Galatians 4:1-3 ), bearing in mind the progress of the Greek and Roman world in social habits, institutions and laws: they had in fact learnt much in the sphere of morals and natural religion that would bear comparison with the progress of Israel under the light of the revealed Law of God. But when he compares the mechanical routine of formal observances which formed the staple of religion for the heathen and for many so-called religious Jews with the spiritual teaching of the Gospel, he does not hesitate to denounce them as weak and beggarly.

Verse 10

Galatians 4:10 . The observance of Sabbaths and new moons, of feasts and fasts, of sabbatical and jubilee years, was clearly enjoined by the ceremonial Law; and Paul admitted the obligations of that Law for himself and for all the Circumcision. He continued to frequent the Sabbath-worship of the synagogue, attended the feasts, bound himself under voluntary vows. What he condemns is the adoption of these practices by baptised Gentiles: for this imputed to them an inherent sacredness incompatible with the true freedom of the Spirit.

Verses 11-20


Verse 12

Galatians 4:12 . Our versions abruptly sever the connection of this verse with the previous context, and do great violence to the Greek text in both clauses. They transpose the words ἀδελφοὶ δέομαι ὑμῶν from their true place at the end of the verse to the beginning, and render γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ , Be ye as I am . But this makes it = γίνεσθε ὁποῖος ἐγώ εἰμι ( cf. Acts 26:29 ), though it is impossible to understand εἰμι in the Greek text after γίνεσθε . The context points distinctly to ἐγενόμην as the proper supplement after ὡς ἐγώ . The last verse has carried back the author’s thoughts to his original ministry, and he proceeds to revive the remembrance of that period. “Act as I did (he exclaims); deal with me as I dealt with you.” Instead of a mere vague admonition to imitate his character he is holding up his actual conduct for an example to them, and proceeds to specify the particular occasion to which he refers. ὅτι κἀγὼ …: For I too beseech you as you, brethren, besought me . It is an obvious error to detach κἀγώ from the following verb δέομαι and supply εἰμι , as is done in our versions. The Greek requires a verb to be supplied after ὑμεῖς corresponding to κἀγὼ δέομαι ὑμῶν , and I understand accordingly ἐδεήθητέ μου .

The Galatians could not fail to recollect the occasion to which these words refer; for it was the true birthday of their Church, the memorable crisis when at the close of Paul’s address the Jews departed from the synagogue, but the Gentiles besought him to repeat to them the words of life on the following Sabbath; after which many Jews and proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas persuading them to abide by the doctrine of the grace of God. (See Acts 13:42-43 . In the Greek text it is clear that the persuasion proceeded from them, and not from Paul and Barnabas.) The Galatians had then been suitors to Paul to maintain the freedom of the Gospel, he was now a suitor to them in his turn for its maintenance. οὐδέν με ἠδικήσατε : Ye had done me no wrong . The force of this clause appears from what follows: Paul is dwelling on the mutual relations between him and the Galatians at the time of that memorable petition. They on their side had done him no wrong, they had not driven him away by persecution or illtreatment, yet up to that time ( τὸ πρότερον ) he had only been induced by illness to preach to them. The Galatians had, in short, given him no excuse for passing them by, as he intended to do, until he was attacked by an illness which left him no option.

Verse 13

Galatians 4:13 . διʼ ἀσθένειαν . This can only mean owing to infirmity of the flesh, i.e. , to illness. διά with accusative has the same causal force in the N.T. as in Attic Greek. A phrase like διά νύκτα , by night , is found in Homer, but διά subsequently lost its temporal force, and only regained it in the Latinised Greek of later centuries from confusion with the Latin per. The position of διʼ ἀσθένειαν before the verb lays stress upon the fact that the ministry was due to illness alone, and not to spontaneous resolve.

It appears from this and the following verses that the illness occurred under the eyes of the Galatians, who watched its progress, were familiar with its repulsive symptoms, and displayed tender sympathy with the sufferer. They were aware also of the alteration it had made in his plans. The inference from these facts is clear, that he did not intend at the time of his arrival in Galatia to preach there at all, but was prostrated immediately after by sudden illness, and so forced to relinquish his previous project and abandon for the present any further journey. The only conceivable way, in short, in which an attack of illness in Galatia can have occasioned his preaching there was by involuntary detention. Here, accordingly, the motive for mentioning it is to show how little claim he had on the gratitude of the Galatians at that time, and how little he had deserved the tender sympathy which they exhibited. The historical connection of this illness with the ministry of Paul and Barnabas is investigated in the Introduction (pp. 135 7).

It has been suggested that this attack was perhaps identical with the σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7 , and this may be true, but the real nature of the σκόλοψ is unknown. Some features of this attack on the contrary may be inferred from the description given of its effects: it incapacitated the patient for travel, produced disfigurement and offensive symptoms, but allowed free intercourse with those around him. His success in winning the hearts of those who visited him in his sick chamber suggests a chronic ailment prolonged for a considerable time, as does also the complete change in his plans. The only definite hint given of a specific malady is the language of Galatians 4:15 : from which I gather that the eyesight was imperilled by a virulent attack of ophthalmia. That disease was notoriously prevalent in the lowlands of Pamphylia through which he had been travelling, and if so contracted, would produce the symptoms described. The pathetic appeal to Galatian sympathy on the score of imperfect sight in Galatians 6:11 confirms this view. If his sight had been impaired by an illness to which they had themselves ministered with tender solicitude, they would be quick to feel for his privation. τὸ πρότερον . Lightfoot contends with justice that this phrase cannot on account of the prefixed article refer to an indefinite period in time past. The author clearly had in his mind two distinct periods, an earlier and a later, during the earlier of which he states that his preaching had been occasioned by illness. Lightfoot suggests that he referred perhaps to the two visits which he had paid to the Galatian Churches: and the suggestion is reasonable if his theory be accepted of sites in Northern Galatia, for no details are known of either visit. But it is quite incompatible with the history of his ministry in Southern Galatia recorded in Acts 13:14 . That lasted over two winters at the very least, comprised two visits at considerable intervals to each of the Churches, and displayed throughout as resolute an initiative, as determined energy, as vigorous activity, as can be found in the whole course of his apostolic career. That ministry gave certainly no sign of illness, but the contrary. We have seen, however, that it was preceded by a prolonged illness, during which he was probably confined to his sick chamber and could only minister to those who visited him there. His first ministry in Galatia passed in short through two distinct stages, first the private ministrations of a sick man, and then a public career of unexampled vigour and success. The last verse placed the readers on the division line between the two, for it reminded them of the memorable petition addressed to him and Barnabas at the close of his first public address in the synagogue of the Pisidian Antioch. It is, therefore, of the preceding period that he writes here, “You know that it was owing to illness that I had preached to you up to that time ( τὸ πρότερον )”. It is needless to dwell on the complete harmony of this interpretation with the context.

Verse 14

Galatians 4:14 . τὸν πειρασμὸν ὑμῶν . The best MSS. all read ὑμῶν , not μου or μου τον . The accusative τὸν πειρασμόν is not governed by ἐξουθενήσατε or ἐξεπτύσατε , whose real object is the με which follows ἐδέξασθε : it is really a pendent accusative in apposition to the sentence: As for the temptation to you in my flesh ( i.e. , the temptation to reject me with contempt and disgust on account of my diseased state), you did not .…

Verse 15

Galatians 4:15 . ποῦ οὖ … The MSS. are decisive in favour of ποῦ , which makes excellent sense. “You congratulated yourselves,” it is urged, “on my coming among you, you welcomed me as an angel, as Christ Himself: what has become of that feeling now? where is your satisfaction at your lot?” ἐδώκατε . Some MSS. insert αν before this verb: the addition would be necessary in Attic Greek to express the conditional force of the clause, but is not needed in Hellenistic Greek τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑμῶν . The full force of ὑμῶν may be given in English by the rendering your own eyes : for it lays stress on the contrast between their eyes and those of Paul. The addition is significant, and strongly confirms the view that his eyes were the organ specially affected by his malady.

Verse 16

Galatians 4:16 . ὥστε is often used in the sense of therefore to introduce an imperative or an affirmative conclusion in the Epistles of Paul, but not an interrogation. I can see no reason here for making the clause interrogative: the rendering I am therefore become an enemy to you is quite in harmony with the context, which assumes the existence of some actual estrangement. This estrangement is attributed to plain speaking which had given offence to the disciples. As he had seen no trace of coldness at the time of his recent visit, he must be referring to some language which he had used on that occasion. Circumstances forced him to take up strong ground at that time on the subject of circumcision and to denounce the opposition and intrigues which he had encountered from the Pharisaic party.

Verses 17-18

Galatians 4:17-18 . The substantive ζῆλος (probably derived from ζέειν , burn ) denotes some kind of passionate desire. Whether it was of good or evil tendency depended on the nature of its object and the spirit in which it was pursued: for the same term was used to designate zeal for God or for some noble object, personal passion, or an exclusive spirit of selfish jealousy. The verb ζηλοῦν partakes of the same neutral quality. Its figurative meaning is here borrowed from the efforts of a lover to win favour. The Pharisaic party affected ( i.e. , courted) the Galatians in a selfish spirit, being minded to shut them out of their rightful inheritance in Christ, that they might reduce them to dependence on their own Law. Paul also courted them, not for his own glory, but that he might join them to Christ, and he was glad that they should be courted at all times, even by others in his absence, if it was done in a right spirit. They affect you (he writes, i.e. , court you) not honourably, but are minded to shut you out that you may affect them. But it is good for you to be affected at all times and not only when I am present with you . ζηλοῦτε . As there are no other instances of ἵνα being followed by an indicative present in Pauline language, it is probable that this and φυσιοῦσθε in 1 Corinthians 4:6 are really forms of the subjunctive, though ζηλῶτε is the contracted form in general use.

Verse 19

Galatians 4:19 . τεκνία μου . This is an accusative in apposition to ὑμᾶς , not a vocative introducing a fresh appeal. It is clear from the addition of the connecting particle δέ after ἤθελον that that word begins a new sentence. τεκνία is usually a term of maternal endearment; and though addressed by John in his first Epistle to his children in Christ, is not used elsewhere by Paul, who prefers to address them as children ( τέκνα ), rather than as babes. But in this passage he is adopting the figure of a child-bearing mother; he is in travail for the spiritual birth of Christ within them (as he says), and straining all his powers to renew once more the spiritual life which had died in them until he could succeed in shaping their inner man afresh into the image of Christ.

Verse 20

Galatians 4:20 . ἤθελον . This imperfect expresses a modified wish, qualified by implied conditions, like ηὐχόμην in Romans 9:3 and ἐβουλόμην in Acts 25:22 . He would fain be with them now ( ἄρτι ) instead of waiting for some future opportunity, were it not that he was unavoidably detained by other claims. ἀλλάξαι . This is interpreted by some as a threat of increased severity, by others as a craving for the use of gentler words; but neither interpretation agrees with the regular Greek usage of the word. The natural meaning of the Greek expression is to exchange the voice for some other means of persuasion, in this case for the pen, and this sense is clearly indicated by the context. Paul longs to come and speak to them instead of writing, and is confident of his power to clear away doubts and errors by personal intercourse. ἀποροῦμαι . This middle voice denotes the inward distress of a mind tossed to and fro by conflicting doubts and fears.

Verses 21-30

Galatians 4:21-30 . PATRIARCHAL HISTORY IS EMPLOYED TO ILLUSTRATE THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS, WHO ARE THE PROMISED SEED OF ABRAHAM, BY JEWS WHO ARE HIS SEED AFTER THE FLESH. HAGAR AND HER SON, SARAH AND HER SON, FURNISH PROPHETIC TYPES OF THE MUTUAL RELATIONS BETWEEN THE TWO. AS HIS ELDER SON, THE SLAVE-BORN ISHMAEL, WAS CAST OUT FOR MOCKING THE FREEBORN CHILD, SO THE OLDER ISRAEL UNDER BONDAGE TO THE LAW WILL BRING ON THEMSELVES THE DOOM OF NATIONAL REJECTION BY PERSECUTING THE TRUE ISRAEL OF GOD WHOM CHRIST HATH ENDOWED WITH THE FREEDOM OF THE SPIRIT. The force of this illustration depends on the distinction drawn in Galatians 3:16-22 between the seed of promise and the seed of Abraham after the flesh. The argument of Romans 9:6 … is likewise based on the successive exclusion of the latter from inheritance of the blessing. John the Baptist and Jesus Himself expressly warned the Jews not to rely on their claim to be sons of Abraham.

Isaac the child of promise, only son of a free mother after years of barrenness, and heir to an indisputable birthright, aptly prefigured the Church of Christ, born in the fulness of time, made free by the gift of the Spirit, and established for ever in the house of their heavenly Father by an eternal covenant of adoption. Ishmael again, who had for some years filled the position of a son without the birthright which could entitle him to inherit the blessing, but was eventually driven out for his mockery of the promised child supplied an exact prototype of Israel after the flesh, long recognised as the people of God, but bound under the Law, and eventually destined to be shut out from the household of God for their guilt in persecuting Christ and His Church. τ . νόμον οὐκ ἀκούετε . This is a remonstrance addressed to men who are bent on upholding the authority of the Law, but are indifferent to the lessons which it teaches. ἀκούειν has this force of listening , not only when used absolutely, but when coupled as it is here with an accusative ( cf. Luke 10:39 , Ephesians 1:13 ).

Verse 22

Galatians 4:22 . γέγραπται ὅτι . The statement which follows is not a quotation, but a summary of recorded facts.

Hagar and Sarah are entitled the handmaid and the freewoman because they are accepted types of each class in Scripture. In the LXX παιδίσκη denotes any young woman ( e.g. , Ruth) as it does in Attic Greek, but in the N.T. παιδίσκη , a handmaid , corresponds to παῖς , a male servant.

Verse 23

Galatians 4:23 . The two who were coupled together in the last verse as sons of one father are here contrasted in respect of their different mothers. γεγέννηται . The perfect is used in order to present the birth as a Scripture record now in existence ( cf. Hebrews 11:17 ; Hebrews 11:28 …): otherwise the aorist ἐγεννήθη would have been appropriate. διʼ ἐπαγγελίας . There is an alternative reading διὰ τῆς ἐπ . supported by equal MS. authority: but it is difficult to attach any meaning to the article, whereas διʼ ἐπαγγ . forms an appropriate antithesis to κατὰ σάρκα . Like διὰ νόμου in Galatians 2:19 ; Galatians 2:21 it describes the attendant circumstances under which the birth took place, διά not having an instrumental force.

Verse 24

Galatians 4:24 . ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα . No doubt is thrown on the historical truth of the patriarchal history by classing the story of Ishmael with allegories: though an additional value is thereby claimed for it as embodying spiritual truth, and typifying the permanent relation between the two seeds. αὗται γάρ εἰσιν . The two women are identified with the two covenants, the Sinaitic and the Christian, which they typify: and the characteristic features of the two are declared to be slavery and freedom. γεννῶσα . This term is applied to the conception of the mother in Luke 1:13 ; Luke 1:57 also, though more often applied to the father.

Verse 25

Galatians 4:25 . τὸ γὰρ . The variety of readings in the MSS., το Αγαρ , το γαρ Αγαρ , το δε Αγαρ , το γαρ , indicates some primitive error of transcription. It is hardly possible to extract any reasonable sense from the three first: for τὸ Ἅγαρ cannot mean Hagar herself: it denotes the name Hagar, and Stanley’s attempt to connect this name with Sinai proved futile. How then can the statement be understood that the name Hagar is Sinai, or that it answers to Jerusalem? How again can the superfluous description of Sinai as a mountain in Arabia be explained? Moreover, the reading τὸ Ἅγαρ without any connecting particle is intolerable in Greek language, and δέ or γάρ was probably added to correct the solecism. Hence I conclude that Ἅγαρ was probably an error in transcription for the original γάρ , suggested by its occurrence immediately before.

The statement in the text on the contrary, For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia , is full of meaning when it is remembered that Hagar had no connection with Sinai itself, but that she found a home for herself and her children in Arabia. συστοιχεῖ . The previous clause τὸ γὰρ … Ἀραβίᾳ is a parenthesis, ἥτις is therefore the subject of συστοιχεῖ . The Apostle finds in the actual state of Jerusalem and her children the same characteristic feature of slavery as in the covenant of Sinai.

Verse 26

Galatians 4:26 . ἡ ἄνω Ἱερ . The Psalms and Prophets attest the enthusiastic devotion of Israelites to the city of Jerusalem. Since the temple of God and the palace of the house of David were within its walls, it was at once the holy city round which clustered the religious feelings of Israel, and the city of the great king, of whom the royal house of David were representatives ( cf. Psalms 48:0 ). The events of the captivity and restoration associated it still more intimately with the national fortunes and aspirations of Israel. Hence both Isaiah and Ezekiel invested it with ideal glory in their prophetic anticipations of the Messianic kingdom. Their visions of its future destiny looked forward to its becoming the centre of a world-wide worship: there the great King of all the earth would manifest His presence, and thither would flow all nations, offering their homage and bearing due tribute of gifts and sacrifices. But the Hebrew ideal scarcely rose above imaginations of an earthly city and a temple on the mountains of Israel. It was the function of Christian inspiration to spiritualise this conception, to eliminate its local association with the typical temple on earth, and to substitute a heavenly for an earthly city. The Apocalypse bears witness to the process of transition. Though it adheres closely to the vision of Ezekiel, and continues to employ material imagery for expressing the dazzling brightness and intense purity of the temple-city, yet the New Jerusalem is now seen coming down from heaven to a new earth; in place of earthly light it is illuminated by the light which emanates from the throne of God and of the Lamb; and material images are interpreted as symbols of moral beauty and spiritual holiness. The Epistle to the Hebrews views the heavenly Jerusalem from another side. Whereas the Apocalypse depicts its buildings, streets and rivers, the Epistle describes the throng of angels, the assembly of the first-born, the spirits of departed saints that are gathered there round the throne of God, and contrasts the awful majesty of the living God with the material terrors of Sinai. This Epistle presents the contrast between the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem, and between the covenants of Sinai and of Christ in a different aspect. For the Apostle embodies in his conception a purely Greek ideal of a city, the mother and home of freemen. A self-governed body of free citizens, subject to no foreign control, but maintaining justice and order in perfect peace by their own sovereign will, furnishes him with an appropriate type of the heavenly commonwealth, whereof Christians are even now citizens, dwelling in peace together in the unity of Christian brotherhood, and independent of all restraints of law because they themselves do the will of God from the heart.

The Hebrew form Ἱερουσαλήμ is naturally preferred to the Greek in all these passages, because Jerusalem is personified as an ideal city. The stress here laid on the freedom of Christ’s disciples recalls the conversation of Christ with the Jews in John 8:32 … but the bondage is there more distinctly associated with actual sin.

Verse 27

Galatians 4:27 . The prophecy of Isaiah 54:1 , here quoted from the LXX, describes the restoration of Zion, the enlargement of her borders and increase of her people, under the figure of a wife long neglected and barren, but now restored to the favour of her husband and fruitful in children. This picture was perhaps suggested to the prophet by the history of Sarah’s prolonged barrenness before she became the fruitful mother of Israel, and is peculiarly appropriate for describing the long delayed but fertile growth of the Christian Church, of which she was the typical mother.

Verse 29

Galatians 4:29 . ἐδίωκεν . This imperfect denotes a tendency and disposition rather than actual persecution on the part of Ishmael. The nearest approach to it recorded is in fact his mockery of Isaac on the occasion of his weaning (Genesis 21:9 ). The LXX gives a different version of his conduct on that occasion, which is accepted in the margin of the Revised Version, and seems more in harmony with the circumstances, viz. , that he was playing with the child, bearing himself in short as an elder brother in the family, and that the jealousy of Sarah was aroused lest he should claim an elder brother’s share of the inheritance. But the Apostle adopts the traditional view of his conduct which was accepted by the Jews, in consequence perhaps of the subsequent feud between the two races; and discovers in Ishmael the same jealous temper that was exhibited by Jewish persecutors towards the infant Church.

Verse 30

Galatians 4:30 . Again, the expulsion of Ishmael gives warning that those who observe the letter of the Law only, and lack the true spirit of sonship, though they render formal obedience to the will of the Father, have no abiding inheritance in His house.

Verse 31

Galatians 4:31 to Galatians 5:12 . Freedom is our birthright in Christ and an essential condition of our call. Accordingly the Apostle protests against the claim that all Christians should be circumcised, as a departure from the spirit of Christ, a dangerous innovation which the churches will certainly condemn, and a superstition of the flesh on a par with the grossest heathen superstitions.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/galatians-4.html. 1897-1910.
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